Newspaper articles from various sources appeared both shortly after the
Walnut voyage and were also written many years later.
Many news articles contain factual inaccuracies, but are presented
herein as published and written by their authors.
"Wanted: survivors of a nightmare voyage to
The Canadian Star Weekly
Author: Walter Kanitz [spelling not clearly visible] - Dated
sometime in 1968 ?
In the early
morning mist of Dec. 13, 1948, the pilot of a Canadian coast guard plane spotted
a small vessel wallowing helplessly in rough seas, 200 miles off Nova
Scotia. Unable to make radio contact, he signaled Halifax. A few
hours later a cutter came alongside the 600-ton Walnut; a former British
minesweeper. An officer went aboard and discovered a waking
nightmare. He found 364 passengers -- men, women and children -- crammed
into the hold of a ship that had been built originally for a crew of 14.
The human sardine can stank abominably. People were stretched out on
bunks, on the floor, everywhere. They seemed dead.
officer climbed back on deck and took a deep gulp of fresh air.
"Dead?" he asked the captain. "No," the captain told him,
"not dead -- almost."
A tugboat towed the Walnut into Halifax. Ambulances
took the passengers and crews to various hospitals. The immigration people
hustled to look after the unexpected shipload of new Canadians.
Valdim Tuklerim, today a prosperous real estate operator in
Hamilton, Ont. who has changed his name to Val Tukler, confirms what the
captain said. He was one fo the crew of the Walnut. "A few days
longer," he says, "and we would have been dead. All of
us." Latvian-born, Val was one of the anxious and miserable group of
Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian refugees who had left the Swedish port of
Göteborg on November 11 to sail for "the free, democratic land of
Canada." It was the period of the worst mass deportations to Siberia
that the population of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania had experienced in
the succession of foreign occupations since 1939, in which Russia had alternated
with Germany. To escape this fate thousands had fled to Sweden, where
these 364 had banded together to buy the old British mine sweeper from a scrap
yard. They saw it as their only hope for freedom, as there were constant
rumors that the Russians might invade Sweden.
Twenty years later, Val Tukler's emotions still run high when
he recalls their fantastic escape. Middle-aged now, father of two, he was
lean and hungry and in h is late 20's when he helped organize the voyage.
From among Sweden's masses of Baltic refugees they recruited 364 and collected
$100,000 to buy and outfit the ship. Most of them handed over all the
money they had.
When the Walnut left Göteborg, a final deception was
necessary. There had been no money to buy radio equipment, without which
Swedish authorities would not let it sail. So Captain August Linde, an
Estonian refugee, borrowed the equipment from another ship and once outside
Swedish territorial waters returned it to the owner who had escorted
them. "I'll find my way to Canad blindfolded," said the
captain. And he did.
Caption right: Twenty years ago
next week, 364 Baltic refugees debarked from the Walnut at
Halifax. They had crossed the Atlantic without heat, food or radio
November and December are notoriously bad in the North
Atlantic and after a week of 50-foot waves everyone was miserably sick.
Living conditions were incredible. There was only three feet of space per
couple on each bunk and the bunks were stacked three layers high in a hold 7
feet high. Salt water had spoiled the food. The air stank.
Clothing was permanently soaked. Sanitary facilities were almost
But the Walnut plowed on and each day Canada came
nearer. The sea poured in with every wave. Then the pumps, working
furiously around the clock, broke down. Everyone who could, bailed by hand,
nonstop. Finally after three weeks a giant wave swept away all the coal
remaining in open bins on deck. Shortly afterwards the engine conked
out. For six days and nights the Walnut drifted in the waves, luckily
pushed westward by the winds. It was on the morning of the seventh day
that the plane spotted the ship -- the 32nd day of the voyage.
the 20th anniversary of their arrival in Canada approaches, Val Tukler has lost
track of almost all his companions in misery on the Atlantic crossing. As
far as he knows most of them are safe, sound and prosperous scattered across
Canada and the United States. Any who wish to share a reunion-by-mail can
write to..... [removed by webmaster - Canadian
Star Weekly ceased publication in 1973.]
refugees mark voyage
Flight to freedom 50 years ago"
The Toronto Star
- Monday, October 19, 1998 - by Peter Edwards, Staff Reporter
© Toronto Star - Posted with permission from Torstar Syndication Services.
Lind's strongest memories of her flight to freedom in Canada aren't about fear.
they aren't about the huge Atlantic Ocean waves that washed over the deck of the
tiny ship, the Walnut, forcing passengers to cling to the railings or be washed
strongest memories are of sauerkraut soup.
lots of little worms in it," she says, cringing at the memory 50 years
later. "That was something I'll remember always."
passengers of the Walnut, a former Royal Navy minesweeper, held a reunion this
weekend at St. Peter's Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church on Mount Pleasant
Rd. near Eglinton Ave. E.
the wormy memories didn't hinder the 78-year old woman's appetite during
Saturday's festivities, as she enjoyed smoked turkey and kringel, a sweet bread,
along with more than a hundred other Walnut passengers and their families.
Hilya Kuutan, aboard the Walnut as a 12-year-old, her strongest memory is of the
pure excitement. "It was an adventure for us. As a child, you
were not scared."
347 passengers of The Walnut, who braved a month-long voyage to Canada, started
their long journey when they fled Estonia for Sweden to escape the Red Army
during World War II.
the war ended, the Soviet government demanded that Sweden return its
citizens. In 1948, the refugees watched in horror as fellow Estonians were
dragged crying into boats and back to the Soviet Union.
than face the same fate, they decided to flee to Canada.
journey wasn't easy for most of the passengers.
eat for a month, I was so sick," said Lind, who crossed the Atlantic
with her husband Tőnis and her sons Tony and Tiit Eric.
passengers were told before the voyage that they probably wouldn't be
allowed into Canada, but they gambled and came anyway. The risk paid
off. Parliament created a special exemption to allow them to land on
really among the first board people," Kuutan said. "It
was a refugee boat. We came here illegally. They just didn't call it
Although Harald Sarg, 93, and his bride of 49 years
Helmi, 78, won't call the Walnut a love boat, they did meet on board and
were engaged within three weeks of their arrival in the Toronto area.
"He figured I was a good-hearted person," Helmi said
with a smile.
Sarg made his living as a construction worker while
his wife worked in the office at Sears. Like the rest of the
Walnut's passengers, they are proud they were able to support themselves
without government aid.
Photo caption: Harald Sarg,
93, and his wife Helmi, 78, enjoy the 50th anniversary reunion of
passengers who made their way to Canada aboard the Walnut, where the
Johnson remembers lots of crying, but not much else of the voyage. She was
just 3. "I was very ill and I didn't eat at all," she
recalled. "My mother even said (jokingly) they were going to throw
me overboard." Like most of the passengers, her family settled in
There are about
10,000 people of Estonian heritage in southern Ontario, possibly the largest
Estonian community outside Eastern Europe.
It was worth the
ocean waves and the worms in the soup to get here, Kuutan said. "You're
part of Canada. There are no regrets."
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